Deadly Australian funnel-web spiders can also kill melanoma cancer cells, study shows
By Rachel Riga
Sat 6 Oct 2018, 1:17pm
The QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute study found peptide — extracted from the venom gland of the Darling Downs funnel-web spider and chemically synthesised — has anti-cancer properties that can kill melanoma cancer cells in humans and stop them spreading.
The compound, which also proved highly effective at treating Tasmanian devil facial tumour cells, could form the basis of new cancer treatments.
Queensland lead researcher Dr Maria Ikonomopoulou said the peptide was tested in laboratory experiments against a similar compound from a Brazilian spider, and she was shocked it had such a profound effect.
“It’s very exciting,” she said.
“We found the Australian funnel-web spider peptide was better at killing melanoma cancer cells and stopping them from spreading, and it also didn’t have a toxic effect on healthy skin cells.”
Photo: Dr Maria Ikonomopoulou is the lead researcher of the study. (Supplied: QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute)
Peptides are chains of amino acids linked to each other by amide bonds, with spider peptides being used in international research to test its antibiotic and anti-cancer properties.
The Darling Downs or Toowoomba funnel web spider can be found in southern Queensland, most commonly on rainforest-covered mountain ranges and along the gullies of rivers and creeks flowing off them.
Dr Ikonomopoulou said there were many years of work ahead, but the early results of the study were promising.
“We hope that this compound could, in the future, be developed into a new treatment for melanoma,” she said.
“These findings prompt us to continue investigating the potential of bioactive compounds derived from venom to treat melanoma, liver disease, obesity and metabolism … in collaboration with the biopharmaceutical industry.